In the context of some discussion around organisational transformation (… like, er, does it really ever happen?), someone over on the London Integral Circle list recently suggested that perhaps friendship is more ripe for transformation than organisations! He was referring to a recent interview with Bill Torbert, from which it transpires that “after a lifetime and career in personal and organisational development is he choosing to spend his latter years in small friendship communities of inquiry rather than trying to liberate the workplace”.
This preference resonates very strongly with me, too, and it got me to thinking about the power of friendship and intimacy, and what it can achieve that simple ‘collegiality’ cannot.
What I and my close colleagues are finding is that in the great complexities of today’s organisational life (which – at least in the case of the European Commission – is supposed to be dealing with the complexities of the real world), the normal standard of professional relationship just can’t hack it.
In order to navigate complexity with any kind of success, collective wisdom is needed (deep and accurate sensing from multiple perspectives). That means accessing aspects of being and knowing well beyond the cognitive capacities that are accepted and valued in traditional hard-nosed organisational contexts. And for that to be possible, TRUST is indispensable. So it is safe to say (and I see it every day, wherever I travel in this very large organisation full of highly educated, intelligent individuals of all European cultures) that without the capacity to nurture deep friendship with whoever you happen to have to work with, individuals will not be able to turn any part of their organisation into something that is truly effective in the world.
Holacracy gets around that problem in a number of connected ways – that’s not my focus for this post, but briefly, through having its governance/steering done through integrative decision-making, by double-linking its hierarchical circles, and by insisting that each circle, and each role within each circle, be self-governing – by some mysterious alchemy, the output of this cocktail is TRUST.
However, another interesting phenomenon arises when you step into deep friendship with colleagues. It soon becomes impossible to happily strive together to do things that don’t make any sense. Most of our organisations today are in the business of monetising aspects of life that people once used to be able to do for themselves – cooking, sewing, singing, making music, reading, writing, growing food, having relationships, rearing children, caring for aged parents, walking – thereby reducing the towering potential of humanity into ‘consumers’ on the one hand and ‘experts’ on the other, with no real need for community and ever less ability to relate to each other without the intercession of money and contracts.
There are times when my small team of close colleagues and I are reduced to stunned silence because, no matter how hard we try, we cannot find any satisfying sense or meaning in the work we are doing. At least, not the work we are paid to do. All of it is basically aiming at reducing humanity to conditioned slavery and mindless consumption, while turning our natural, spiritual, cultural and social capital into money, inevitably destined to flow into the hands of the richest – these days that means the banks and the heads of big corporations. It’s not what we thought we were signing up to when we joined the European institutions to serve the European ideal.
So where does that leave us? A nice paradox. It leaves me realising that my true work is exactly to learn how to restore authentic friendship in these impoverished professional environments, so that we can start to question whether we want to be engaged in these shatteringly meaningless passtimes, or whether we want to cultivate our collective wisdom and gradually steer ourselves away from the precipice, taking as many others as possible with us. Perhaps this is another germ of the revolution that is happening, now, among citizens in many different countries – Tunisia, Egypt, Syria, Libya, Greece, Spain, Israel, India – just not wanting, any more, to blindly feed the mindlessly destructive mechanisms powering our civilisation.